Summer of Crud is a coming-of-age story that takes place on a road trip across America. It makes reference on a few occasions to the Beats and in fact appears to be an attempt to update Kerouac’s On the Road for the 21st century. However, while not a terrible novel, it certainly is no modern classic.
Our protagonist is one Danny Wolinski, a college graduate who’s set to become a teacher, but who is in the grip of a debilitating depression. He takes off for Mexico with his abusive friend, Ian Perez, a poor man’s Dean Moriarty. Together, they speed across America, going from party to party, bar to bar, pizza place to pizza place. They are constantly drunk or high, usually at odds with one another, and always low on funds.
Danny slowly tells his life story, or part of it, at least. He’s a musician who’s unable to write songs. In the past he was in a successful band but hated that people liked him so much when he really hated himself. Now he’s on the road with his horrible, impatient, bullying best friend, and he likes the abuse he gets. He sees no future except for this trip, which in itself has no clearly defined aim.
Not only is Danny musically constipated, he has an anal fissure that ruptures every time he goes to the bathroom, and so he is not just in mental turmoil but near constant physical pain. In the beginning, this is merely alluded to, but soon it becomes a recurring feature – we are treated to a graphic description of every one of our hero’s bowel movements. As with the drinking and bickering, it all becomes a bit tedious and annoying.
Kerouac’s muse, Neal Cassady, was no saint but we were, in Kerouac’s novels, given deep and insightful descriptions of him. In Summer of Crud, our cheap Moriarty stand-in is ever present, yet we never really get to know him. Ian is an asshole who sometimes is nice, and that’s about it. We never scratch the surface and explore why he might be that way.
Jonathan Lapoma’s modern road novel has a decent premise and some interesting moments, but the dialogue is stilted, the story repetitive (even though, thankfully, short), and the characters rather one-dimensional. It diverges from the genre in a few places but otherwise is rather derivative. The ending, also, is a disappointment, but I shan’t give any spoilers here.